Limbs bend. Bodies stretch. Lights dim and brighten. Fabrics flutter.
A dance performance promises all this, but Sidra Bell Dance New York, an experimental dance company performing at the Contemporary Arts Center Dec. 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m., will offer these images and more.
The company was founded in 2001 by the eponymous Sidra Bell, who started seriously dancing at the Dance Studio of Harlem at age 7. She started with the neoclassical form but was later exposed to Martha Graham, the Horton Technique and jazz dancing.
After graduating from Yale in 2001, Bell produced her first show, and since then her bond to dance and choreography has gotten tighter and tighter, and her work has become more and more her own.
“It’s very visual,” Bell said in a recent phone interview. She’d just driven from New York City to Philadelphia. “It’s graphic, which I think is because I have small history in visual arts, so I like to integrate a lot of different visual elements, from the costuming to the lighting and to the sound that’s being heard. It’s an integration of all those things that makes for a very theatrical appearance.”
The particular show she is doing at CAC, called “REVUE,” was born in 2010. The piece has been called “a blend of vaudeville, Fellini and Cirque du Soleil” by the Pittsburg Post-Gazette’s 2010 Best in Dance. It’s a piece that is recognizable for its familiar elements, which are personal to Bell but relate to everyone.
“ ‘REVUE,’ in a visual sense, has elements of things that you’ll recognize like clowns, iconography in a contemporary way,” she said. “My inspiration behind this piece is my inner narrative, but the way I depicted it came out in this very vaudevillian way. I feel like trying something on or putting on a costume, just playing with identity in a more extreme way in ‘REVUE,’ so when you break it down it’s just about the human experience: loneliness and belonging.”
Though many dance performances focus on the dancing itself, what’s particularly interesting about this performance is that Bell creates a narrative. This is her ballet background at work, but her break from it is through all of the dance experiences she’s had since then.
The hope is to challenge the expectations people have of dance.
“This piece has a narrative through line with it,” she said. “Not linear, but it has characters, and parts of it are comic and other parts are dark, melancholic. So it really takes you all over the map in terms of what you’re seeing and feeling and hearing. It’s experiential, which is what dance is, but I think with this work it really includes very stimulating aspects with the way the world designed onstage unfolds.”
This will be Sidra Bell New York’s first visit to New Orleans.
The dance company has visited Atlanta before, so this will not be its first pirouette in the South, but after a recent site visit Bell thinks New Orleans is a perfect city to soak up this piece’s particular vibe.
“Particularly with this piece,” Bell said, “it’s really exciting to present it in such a vibrant city like New Orleans. It feels perfect. The aspect of masquerading. I was only there for four days, but you could feel there was a lot of joy and also a mix of darkness. I really like that about the city — it’s raw.”
Bell’s very excited to be in New Orleans and hopes that the people of the Crescent City will open itself up to this particular art.
“I’m just really happy to be bringing it to a new community and feel their reaction and feel like they can react and ask questions and be curious about all the piece’s content.”